Asia's Embattled Tigers, a Species Facing Extinction

Bengal Tiger
The Bengal Tiger
Fighting for a slice of earth to call its own

Editor’s Note: At the turn of the 20th century, over 100 years ago, there were over 100,000 tigers living in the wild, in an area that spanned most of eastern and southern Asia. Today fewer than 7,500 tigers remain in the wild, and of the eight subspecies of tiger, three are already extinct. In China there are only a few dozen South China Tigers left; in Siberia only a few hundred Siberian Tigers are left; in Indonesia, only a few hundred Sumatran Tigers still live in the wild.

Encouraging progress towards safeguarding tiger habitat has been made, if not, certainly these three most endangered subspecies would already be extinct, and the other two would be far closer to extinction. But groups such as WildAid, who sponsors education campaigns to discourage consumer demand for tiger parts, as well as organizes operations to hunt down and prosecute tiger poachers, have been effective in slowing the rate of tiger slaughter.

When one considers the habitat of tigers, intersecting with some of the most densely populated regions on earth – southeast China, India, Sumatra – the fact that the tiger does still endure is testament to the resilience of this species as well as to the myriad of efforts by conscientious humans to preserve some remnants of these majestic animals.

In very recent years however the decline of the tigers has accelerated again. Population growth, economic growth, and growing international turmoil threaten to once again make preserving the tiger a lower priority. But once the tigers are gone, they can never come back. Against this momentum there can be no rest. There are dozens of effective international organizations and tens of thousands of dedicated people who are fighting to save the tiger. With eternal vigilance, we may yet see this noble species rebound. – Ed Ring

Humans admire tigers as much as they fear them, and the animals figure prominently in Asian myths, religion, arts, and imagination.

Tigers were once found throughout the forested regions of tropical and temperate Asia. Excessive hunting and destruction of tiger habitat have now narrowed the tiger’s range to a few isolated patches. According to estimates, at the beginning of the 20th century over 100,000 tigers flourished throughout Asia, from eastern Russia and Korea through eastern and southern China, South-east Asia, the Indian subcontinent, and into Pakistan, with separate populations around the Caspian Sea and on the Indonesian islands of Bali, Java, and Sumatra. But less than 20% of todays tiger habitat is located in national parks or other protected areas, which means that the majority of the areas where tigers live could be lost to other uses.

Bengal Tiger in Captivity
A Bengal Tiger in captivity
Are their days numbered, living in the wild?

Large carnivore populations like tigers are highly vulnerable to extinction in small and isolated reserves. According to a recent study, tiger habitats worldwide have shrunk 40% in the past decade – they now reside only in 7% of their historic range – and their survival depends on cracking down on poaching, working to reduce conflicts with humans, and protecting key ranges. This landmark study, produced by some of the world’s leading tiger scientists at theWorld Wildlife Fund, the Wildlife Conservation Society, the Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park and Save The Tiger Fund, calls for specific international actions to safeguard remaining populations. The worldwide tiger population has steadily declined to about 7,500 globally, and the big cats continue to face many threats including the trade in tiger parts to meet demand for traditional medicines in China and South-east Asia.

The study, entitled “Setting Priorities for the Conservation and Recovery of the World’s Tigers 2005-2015,” identified for the first time 76 areas, mostly in Asia, that have the best chance of supporting tiger populations. Large carnivore populations like tigers are highly vulnerable to extinction in small and isolated reserves. About half of the 76 areas can support 100 tigers and “offer excellent opportunities for the recovery of wild tiger populations.” Researchers are focusing on few key regions in India, Russia’s far east and parts of South-east Asia. The group’s key conclusion from the study is that to safeguard the remaining tigers, increased protection of the 20 highest priority tiger conservation landscapes is required. The group also stands ready to support the 13 countries with tigers in a regional effort to save the species.

Conservation efforts have so far helped stabilize certain tiger populations, but many initiatives were “ad hoc” and “did little to stem the crisis,” the study found. Tiger breeding areas must be protected and efforts to link different tiger habitats need to be improved, as per the study. According to the Wildlife Conservation Society, tiger conservation requires commitment from local groups, governments, and international donors to “bring the species back to all parts of its biological range.” Groups said authorities must curb the demand for the skins and parts of tigers, and other Asian big cats as also strengthen enforcement efforts along trade routes.

In the words of an official at the WWF-UK, “as tiger range spans borders, so must tiger conservation. Asia’s economic growth must not come at the expense of tiger habitat and the natural capital it protects.”

Reprinted with permission. This article was previously published in TerraGreen, edited by R.K. Pachauri and published every two weeks. TerraGreen, headquartered in New Delhi, India, is an online magazine that reports on sustainable development, forestry, power and energy conservation, biotechnology, pollution and climate change, and on people trying to make a difference. For further information, contact: Editor, TerraGreen, TERI, Darbari Seth Block, IHC Complex, Lodhi Road, New Delhi, India. Telephone 91-11-2468-2100, 11 Ext. 2421/2422, Email


Turn in Tiger Poachers: Contact information is provided on the Forever Tigers website including agencies to contact to turn in Tiger poachers; click here:

Map of Tiger Ranges: From the World Wildlife Fund website a map showing original and current 2006 ranges of Tigers; click here:

Photographs & Information on Tigers & Other Big Cats:

EcoWorld – Big Cats


Wildlife Conservation Society

Centre for Wildlife Studies

823, 13th Cross,

7th Block West, Jayanagar,

Bangalore, 560 082, India

Tel: 080-2671-5364

Fax: 080-2671-5255

Email :

The Corbett Foundation

405 International Trade Tower, Nehru Place,

New Delhi, 110 019, India

Tel: 91-11-4160-8505

Fax: 91-11-4160-8506


WildAid – India/WPSI

D 923 New Friends Colony (2nd floor)

New Delhi, 110 065, India

Tel: 91-11-5166-5049


WildAid – China

Beijing Gateway Building, Suite 1202

No. 10 Yabao Road, Chao Yang District

Beijing, 100020, China

Tel: 86-010-8562-6337

Fax: 86-010-8562-6336


Save China’s Tigers

P.O. Box No. 4877

General Post Office, Hong Kong

Tel: 852-2525-8786

Fax: 852-3171-1971


Save The Tiger Fund

1120 Connecticut Ave., N.W., Suite 900

Washington DC, 20036, USA

Tel: 202-857-0166

Fax: 202-857-0162

The Tiger Foundation

Suite 1780 – 999 West Hastings St.

Vancouver, British Columbia, V6C 2W2, Canada



Source: The Tiger Foundation

Indochinese Tiger

Panthera tigris corbetti

(1,000-1,500 survive in the wild)

Sumatran Tiger

Panthera tigris sumatrae

(400-500 survive in the wild)

South China Tiger

Panthera tigris amoyensis

(less than 50 survive in the wild)

Bengal Tiger

Panthera tigris tigris

(3,000-4,500 survive in the wild)

Siberian Tiger

Panthera tigris altaica

(about 500 survive in the wild)

Balinese Tiger

Panthera tigris balica


Javan Tiger

Panthera tigris sondaica


Caspian Tiger

Panthera tigris virgata


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